Before the men’s water polo season began, coach Luis Nicolao knew his team had the potential to be exceptional. Four of the team’s top five scorers were returning, and at least four freshmen looked ready to contribute immediately. The main question was one of cohesion: Could the veteran Tigers and talented newcomers learn to play together?
Princeton answered with an emphatic “yes” in its opener, an 8–6 win over Santa Clara Sept. 9. The Tigers never trailed the Broncos, then ranked No. 13 in the nation, and freshman Kayj Shannon scored two goals in the last six minutes to put the game out of reach. Familiar standouts Tim Wenzlau ’13 and Tommy Donahue ’13 had key goals as well.
The Tigers continued to click on their opening weekend and in the weekend that followed, compiling an 8–0 record — the program’s best start since 2004. Through Oct. 7, Princeton was 11–6, with five of the losses coming to ranked opponents on a four-day trip to California.
Six Princeton players have averaged at least one goal per game, and four of those six are freshmen: Shannon, Drew Hoffenberg, Thomas Nelson, and Matt Weber. All four have netted important goals in close games.
Hoffenberg, for example, scored three times in a victory over Navy Sept. 24, including a late goal that sent the game to overtime. A week later at Long Beach State, Nelson led Princeton with two goals and two assists in an 8–4 win.
“That’s the beauty of this team,” Nicolao said. “It’s not just one guy all the time.”
Princeton’s ultimate success this season will be determined Nov. 18-20, when the top eight teams in the East compete for a spot in the NCAA Final Four. The Tigers have reached the Final Four twice under Nicolao, most recently in 2009.